Every Christian has a vocation. In a real sense, we are our vocations.
I’m thinking of the mentally-challenged teen who attends my parish. She’s almost puppyish in her expressions of affection with the other teens.
In my public school, I saw teens like her get roughed up pretty routinely. In fact, one of the cruelest things I ever saw in a school involved the football team boys and a mentally challenged young man. This young man styled his hair in a way that the football boys found offensive. So, they took him down in the hall and cut his hair.
A yelling crowd formed around them while they did this. I remember I came up on them and stood at the back of the crowd, unable to see what was happening. When they finally finished and backed off, this young man was lying on the floor in a fetal position, his hands over his head, crying. I will never forget that all the men teachers ran the other way when this happened. The only teacher who tried to intervene was a tiny female journalism teacher who got shoved back and ignored.
That’s the law of the fittest in action, btw, right down to the male teachers high-tailing it out of there at the first sign of real trouble.
What I have seen in my parish is the polar opposite of this behavior. The other teens are not only kind to this girl, they return her affection. It’s not at all unusual to see them sitting with her during mass and letting her hug them and talk to them when everyone should be quiet.
My point here is that this mentally challenged girl has a vocation, just the same as you and I and the Pope have vocations. She is full of love. She knows that God loves her, that Jesus loves her, and I have no doubt that she will go easily on a straight path to heaven when her time comes. That’s her vocation: To let God love her from death to life and to live in that love all her days.
Our vocation, part of it, is to take care of her, protect her and make sure she can live without ever ending up lying in a hallway sobbing helplessly because of the cruelties that people inflict on her.
The boys who humiliated and crushed that mentally challenged young man weren’t monsters as we usually think of human monsters. They were ordinary teen-aged boys who had developed a good dose of male tribal bonding during their time as members of the same football team. There are few things on this planet more dangerous than male tribal bonding, especially in adolescent boys.
Without it, we could not fight our wars. There would be no gang rapes, no drive-by shootings and raves.
Masculinity is beautiful. I am one of its greatest appreciators. But this propensity to form a pack and then do things none of the members of that pack would do alone can be incredibly cruel and destructive.
This same pack instinct is in all of, in a more verbal and less physically violent way in women, but it’s there in all of us. Human beings need other human beings. We hunger for one another’s company, for the solace of touching other people on an emotional and spiritual level. We find much of our affirmation and pleasure in life in our relationships with one another.
In a human relationship, there is give and take. But in our relationship with our creator, it’s all take. He gives, we take.
Think about it. What exactly can you give God that He would need?
To put it in an understandable perspective, what can your toddler give you that you need?
All your toddler has to do is let you love them. All they need to do is follow your lead and let you guide them.
It’s like that with us and God. When we do these good things that come from the love He pours out on us, we are not doing it as a gift to Him. We are simply expressing the love that is our birthright as children of God.
That’s why we can look at the admittedly disruptive chattering of a mentally challenged teen and respond to her with affection. We can love because we were loved first.
So, what happened with those football playing teenagers who shoved a harmless mentally challenged boy onto the floor and publicly degraded and humiliated him? Probably most of then didn’t go to church, but if you asked them I imagine to a person they would have said they believed in God.
So why didn’t their belief in God stop them from doing this thing that was so obviously devil-inspired? I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that they hypered one another into it through the black magic of group-think. To put it bluntly, they chose the group over basic humanity. They chose the group over Christ. They chose the group over their own souls and spiritual well-being, because when it’s all said and done, they wounded themselves, as well as the boy they attacked.
I am not damning these young men to hell for what they did. But I am saying that a lifetime of choices like this will send you there for the simple reason that this would be a lifetime of refusing to follow Him.
Vocation is not just for special people who take vows or form apostolates and ministries. It’s not even confined to the more competent among us who hold down jobs, raise families and can make our way in the world. Every Christian has the vocation of accepting God’s love and passing it along. Every Christian has the vocation of choosing Him over the group, over the world.
I know that what I’m saying here is not exactly the hubba-hubba-go-out-and-evangelize pep talk that people have come to expect when we talk about vocation. But I think it’s the essential first understanding to true Christian vocation.
All the things we normally associate with the word vocation come after this essential first vocation of allowing ourselves to be loved to life by God. I’ll go a step further and say that even if God eventually wants you to take on the kind of activity we more usually associate with “vocation” that will probably only come to you after you’ve spend quite some time living in His love and growing in it.
It is quite possible to be very sophisticated in the world and a helpless baby in Christ. It takes a good bit of time living in God’s love to mature enough as a Christian to be of any use with a more traditional vocation.